First of all, I’m going to get something off of my chest right away before I jump into Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero. Think of it like ripping a band aid off really quickly. First it’s there, and then it’s not and we call all move on, right? So, I haven’t watched a lot of Dragon Ball content. However, watching Super Hero made me realise that I know more than I originally presumed… Well done me. You’re probably thinking, “what’s the point in reviewing a movie that relies a lot on its 30+ years of history?” Well, normally I’d agree… It does seem somewhat counterproductive. However, the idea of being a voyeuristic viewer, dipping their toes in a well established and immensely popular franchise, was rather exciting. How would someone who has had minimal exposure to the world of Dragon Ball respond to the latest installment? Think of it as an experiment if you will.
How does a franchise with such a vast history cater to new and casual fans? Could Super Hero be the film that pushes me to invest a giant chunk of my time into watching and exploring what Dragon Ball has to offer? Will people take a review seriously if it comes from someone who isn’t rooted in the mythology of the Saiyans? These were just a few questions that crossed my mind while I prepared for Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero… But, as the film started I realised that those questions weren’t massively important. What mattered was simply what I thought and to put it bluntly… I think I’m a fan of Dragon Ball, or I will be- I have some serious homework to do.
So, how does someone who is new to the Dragon Ball franchise review a Dragon Ball movie? Well, I guess we’ll find out.
The Red Ribbon Army was once destroyed by Son Goku. Individuals, who carry on its spirit, have created the ultimate Androids, Gamma 1 and Gamma 2. These two Androids call themselves “Super Heroes”. They start attacking Piccolo and Gohan… What is the New Red Ribbon Army’s objective? In the face of approaching danger, it is time to awaken, Super Hero!
I’ll get this part out of the way first. I’d call it a bit of picky criticism, but I feel like it’s a necessary one purely based on where I’m situated within the fandom. In terms of access, Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero does an okay job at branching out to new fans. Again, I’ve joined Dragon Ball with very little prior knowledge so it would be ridiculous to even attempt to completely criticise Super Hero for its exclusiveness. However, I think it’s important to highlight how well it manages to juggle that fine balance between adhering to the fandom as a whole and enticing new fans in.
Having said that though, Super Hero very much sits on the fence. Now, I was already fairly familiar with many of the characters in the Dragon Ball lore, but Super Hero does a pretty decent job at dipping into some of the previous narratives. It doesn’t fill all of the gaps, but it provides some context as to where certain characters are, have been, and what they have been up to. It’s not concrete, but it’s enough for this film. Of course, there were definitely a few things that went over my head in regards to certain relationships and references. But outside of that, Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero was easy to follow despites its limitations on an audience member such as myself. Super Hero probably isn’t the best introduction into the Dragon Ball franchise, but it does enough to include new audiences while also ensuring the satisfaction of long-time fans. My situation is definitely not ideal, but it was an incredibly fun learning experience.
Now, onto the good stuff. I had a great time watching Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero. Since I didn’t really know what to expect, going in somewhat blind added to my overall enjoyment. It was an immensely enjoyable learning experience from start to finish. I was presented with a fantastic opportunity to immerse myself in the Dragon Ball universe. However, as I watched, I got the feeling that, much like the various My Hero Academia movies, that this film was detached from the main canon. There are definitely pros and cons to that sort of approach, but for Super Hero it was very much a positive. It gave me the chance to learn about these characters while still being able to enjoy the blood-pumping action (and yelling) that Dragon Ball is famously known for. The stakes definitely weren’t extreme, but that’s an ongoing issue with any anime spin off movie, so I think that relaxed approach allowed Super Hero to be a lot more playful and even cheeky. It certainly got a few giggles out of me.
As an anime fan in general, I am very familiar with Dragon Ball and its immense fanbase. It also means that I have had some exposure to the franchise in very small and non-contextual doses. While I can’t consider myself a fully invested fan, I was at least able to recognise that this film is actually the first film, out of 21 theatrical releases, to fully commit to 3D animation. As an outsider, I can imagine that this will have a very split reaction from different fans. It’s definitely a bold move, but it’s one that I really liked. There are some moments where the animation feels stiff, but for the most part it was able to capture this perfect blend of new and old technologies. Embrace the future, respect the past, if you will.
There are elements that are crucial to the Dragon Ball franchise and Super Hero absolutely acknowledges those while also testing the limits of 3D animtion. It evokes that Dragon Ball spirit through visual and audio cues, but the overall film is invigorated by this bold attempt to embrace new technologies. The action is still fast paced, slick, and often brutal but it just doesn’t hit quite as hard as the traditional methods. Although, it couldn’t have been too much of a deviation since I was practically glued to my screen. I’ve seen some bad attempts at implementing 3D animation, but Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero was genuinely impressive to me.
The vast Dragon Ball universe is well known for it’s insane battle sequences and intense shouting matches. Super Hero didn’t abandon those iconic elements, but the 3D animation slowed things down slightly. It didn’t feel quite as fast as it could have been and these characters who could fly and break sound barriers with just a punch felt a lot heavier. As previously mentioned, it didn’t take too much away from the viewing experience but based on what I knew about the Dragon Ball legacy, I knew something wasn’t quite right. There are some genuine moments of pure adrenaline with these larger than life characters who can move mountains.
These moments get bigger and bigger until you reach the finale… The gloves come off and the heroes are faced with an even bigger challenge. What follows is every superhero and Dragon Ball fans fantasy. It’s ridiculous in the best way possible, and it’s impossible not to sit back and enjoy it. There’s a vibrant energy to the combat in Dragon Ball, it’s bright, loud and destructive and that makes for an epic final confrontation where it’s no longer this 1-on-1 fight, it’s an ensemble where everyones abilities are put on display. So even though there were slight issues with this new approach, the essense of Dragon Ball endured.
It’s hard not to commend Super Hero for its dedication to new methods, especially with such a rich history, but it will be interesting to see whether this new style captivates the audience like previous movies have done.
Super Hero focuses primarily on Piccolo and Gamma 1 and Gamma 2. There’s an interesting rivalry there that sprouts from the mere concept of being a hero. Piccolo is trying to defend his friends and family, while Gamma 1 and 2 have been told that these “villains” have to stopped. They’re misguided heroes that have been programmed to see in black and white. It’s a really cool dynamic. However, I would have loved to have seen Gamma 1 and 2 work as a team. Gamma 2, arguably the more fun and overtly cheesey of the two, felt more like a main character than his brother. But, that focus on Gamma 2 really allowed his rivalry with Picollo to flourish and it flourished well.
There are a lot of characters crammed into Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero, but Piccolo, Gamma 2, and Gohan really stood out amongst the crowd. It appears as though true fans will get a lot more out of the little subtle interactions between different characters, so I think there is a lot more fun to be had by those who are more familiar with the characters and the surrounding lore. Did I let stop more from enjoying Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero? Absolutely not.
Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero is an incredibly explosive and action packed ride from start to finish. There are some brilliant moments of hilarity, and moments of pure epicness that I’m certain will have Dragon Ball fans smiling from ear to ear. The film’s endeavour into 3D animation may have a different impact on the wider and more familiar audience. The general aesthetic looked fantastic, however, it is hard to ignore the slower paced movements of these godly characters. Overall though, as someone who is new to the Dragon Ball franchise, I had a great time exploring what I consider to be the unknown. The Dragon Ball franchise may have just found a brand new member. The only issue now is that I have quite a lot of homework to do…
Tickets for Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero are available to buy right now. So, what are you waiting for? Get your tickets here.
The English voice actors include Kyle Hebert (Son Gohan), Sean Schemmel (Son Goku), Robert McCollum (Son Goten), Christopher R. Sabat (Piccolo, Vegeta), Monica Rial (Bulma), Sonny Strait (Krillin), Eric Vale (Trunks), Kara Edwards (Videl), Jeannie Tirado (Pan), Zach Aguilar (Dr. Hedo), Aleks Le (Gamma 1), Zeno Robinson (Gamma 2), Charles Martinet (Magenta), and Jason Marnocha (Carmine).
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